Case Study of Prior Knowledge: Expectations and Identity Constructions in Interdisciplinary, Cross-cultural Virtual Collaboration

Lisa D. McNair and Marie C. Paretti
Department of Engineering Education, 606 McBryde, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA E-mail:,

Akshi Kakar
Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering
660 McBryde, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA

Before integrated design thinking in teams can occur, team members must create an environment in which collaboration is possible — a `relational space’ determined by the identities individuals construct for and of one another. As design collaborations expand across cultural and disciplinary boundaries, identity construction becomes more crucial and more difficult, especially in virtual environments. As a result, engineering educators need to understand and teach appropriate transferable practices that students can bring to team environments, particularly those that involve crossing boundaries — be they disciplinary, cultural or geographic. A case study based on cross- cultural, cross-disciplinary collaboration in a capstone design course shows that through instruction students become aware of the importance of collaborating across cultural and disciplinary boundaries, and through experience in actual projects they become aware of the complexities posed by such collaboration. Case study data, in conjunction with a substantial literature review, identify research questions to guide curricular development in engineering that combines instruction and hands-on experience to help students construct professional identities that support sharing design knowledge in cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary team environments.


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